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John Siblon, ‘Between Hierarchy and Memory: Commemoration of African and Caribbean Servicemen after the First World War’. Photo: ©IWM

I was invited to speak at a workshop on 15 October at the Imperial War Museum, London, on black people’s involvement in the First World War. I was honoured to be part of a panel where the work of each speaker complemented one another. I was asked to present my findings on research into the commemoration of African and Caribbean servicemen after the war ended. I was also asked to give my thoughts, along with the panellist Anna Maguire, one of IWM’s PhD students, on photos from the IWM’s collection on soldiers from the British West Indies Regiment, the South African Native Labour Corps, and the Nigeria Regiment, and finally a session with questions to the panel. 

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 Over the weekend of 18-20 March an international conference took place in Leeds, focusing on resistance to the First World War. The conference, which I helped to organise, brought together academics, community groups, poets and storytellers from across the globe, including delegates who had travelled from Australia and the USA. The conference was envisaged following the suggestion that the prominent narratives during the First World War Centenary were limited to stories of those who had actively participated in the war effort. Stories of resistance to the war were missing from dominant narratives of remembrance and the conference sought to question what war resistance was, how acts of resistance were undertaken, and the significance of war resistance today. The presence of both academic and community focused research on resistance worked particularly well in addressing the many different facets of resistance; including the theoretical underpinnings of pacifism, international and transnational movements for peace, individual acts of conscious and unconscious resistance as well as national and local networks of resistance.

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American airmen with British civilians after VE Day

US official photograph showing American airmen having a drink with Brits outside the Waggon and Horses pub in Great Yeldham, near their base at Ridgewell, Essex, on 17 May 1945. They are gathered around a now defunct local pastime: ‘Bet! V.E. before July’ (FRE 13699)

The American airmen did not simply pack up their bags and board troop ships as the final notes of the VE Day big band faded away. Instead, the Roger Freeman Collection of photographs shows how they spent the time between the end of war and their return home, up in the air and on the ground.

One of the quirks of researching the impact of American airmen on Britain during the Second World War is that very often airfields across East Anglia remained in American hands until the winter of 1945. By November of that year, the bright days of May had faded somewhat and although the August news relieved airmen of possible duty in the Pacific it must have been a homesick bunch of GIs that kicked about East Anglia, as the trees lost their leaves, waiting for orders to go home.

The Roger Freeman Collection gives a good picture of life at war but I’ve taken the chance of the approaching VE Day Anniversary Air Show coming up at IWM Duxford to find out what it reveals about what life was like for Americans in England after the Nazi surrender.

One of the stories told by Bomb Group veterans is that they used the days after VE Day to give lifts to ground crew, who had spent their days making the bombers airworthy and armed, to show them the effect of Allied bombing raids on Nazi industrial sites.

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WWII Filming in Burma

Filmmaking in IWM’s collections: stripped to the waist, Sergeant Basil Wishart of No 9 Army Film and Photo Section films Indian troops crossing a river near Meiktila, Burma in 1945. © IWM SE5423

On a sunny Autumn afternoon, I moved through the crowds pouring into IWM London to attend a screening of this year’s Film Festival. Launched in 2001 as a student competition by Toby Haggith, the Founding Director, the film festival is back from a three year absence to mark the reopening of the Museum.

It has expanded since its early days to include amateur and professional filmmakers and from the large number of submissions thirty-five films made the cut. Inspired by IWM’s collections, and with a chance to experiment with its unique film archive, the films cover diverse topics including the Domez Camp for Syrian refugees, letters between two lovers during the Second World War and the imagining of First World War letters on Twitter.

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To mark the publication of IWM’s guide to Researching the British Empire in the First World War, Anna Maguire reflects on the challenges of remembering war and empire. 

On 12 June 2014, I attended a workshop on war, citizenship and public memory. Convened by Vron Ware and hosted by Autograph, the arts organisation based in Rivington Place, Hoxton, a number of historians, curators, campaigners and educators took part in discussions about the process of remembering war, public memory and commemoration. The discussions centred around the contribution of soldiers from empires in both world wars, and during other twentieth and twenty first century conflicts.

The session began with everyone sharing an image to represent their area of interest. These were fantastically stimulating, ranging from Ministry of Information photographs of colonial troops during the First World War, to book covers such as that researched by Stephen Bourne for his new book Black Poppies to images of current recruits from the Commonwealth in the British Army chosen by Les Back. These were then displayed on the wall as a visible reminder of our own individual perspectives and stories, but also of the collective desire to learn and teach and share more about colonial and postcolonial experiences.

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Image of ‘Trixie’ Inga Joseph's doll which accompanied her when she left Vienna for Britain as one of the Kindertransport refugees in June 1939

‘Trixie’ who accompanied her young owner –Inga Joseph– when she left Vienna for Britain as one of the Kindertransport refugees in June 1939. IWM EPH 3922

The Holocaust Exhibition was ten years old last year, and giving talks about its impact is a rewarding thing to do.  Visitor figures – at 7-800 a day – are still high. The subject has become mainstream after years of being marginalised, and films, tv programmes and books still appear each month with new slants, and new questions.

Today I am talking to the Sheffield branch of the Association of Jewish Refugees.  I know one of the members well – Inga Joseph, who came as a Kindertransport refugee in 1938 and it is through her that I was invited along.  Inga gave the IWM two dolls which she brought with her as a child refugee from Vienna – Trixie and Peter – and has written up her early life in three highly readable books written under the name of Ingrid Jacoby.

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